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Parents at Peralta trying to keep art program alive

on August 2, 2011

Parents at the Peralta Elementary School in North Oakland are raising money to keep its unique art program alive. The $100,000 program, run by two artists-in-residence at Peralta—Ellen Oppenheimer and Trena Noval—integrates art with the school’s overall curriculum and has become what the parents call “the centerpiece of the school.”

“What makes art integration so important in elementary school is that kids really need very hands-on, dynamic ways of learning, ” said Oppenheimer, who has been a textile artist for more than 30 years and has been working with the school for the past 12 years. Together with Noval, who has a background in digital arts, the two have been working with other teachers of the school to connect art with every aspect of the curriculum.

For example, Oppenheimer said, when learning about the weather in their science class, the kids are also asked to observe and draw cloud formations; when reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the kids will also fold paper cranes themselves and even cook Japanese food.

The program extends beyond the classrooms, taking the students and their artistic work out to the community. For instance, over the past four years, the kids have been visiting the North Oakland Senior Center every month to either cook or make crafts with the seniors, and murals painted by the children have decorated traffic boxes on Telegraph Avenue. As an ongoing project, Oppenheimer said, the kids are making quilts for Oakland’s Elizabeth House, a women’s shelter in Rockridge.

“[The program] gives the students an opportunity to reflect what they have learned and share their work with others—that makes learning deeper,” Oppenheimer said, adding that they also teach standard art skills and theories—but in a more creative way. “If the standard is to understand warm and cool colors, there’s no reason we can’t connect that to understanding the season, comparing fall leaves to summer,” she said.

Lisa Zayas-Chien, the mother of a first grader at the school, said she was wowed during a field trip with her daughter’s class to the de Young Museum in San Francisco by how carefully the program is designed. “I was expecting it to be fun,” she said. “But it wasn’t just ‘Let’s walk the kids around’—they had a prepared curriculum for the kids.”

Zayas-Chien said prior to the museum visit, the children had learned some background information about the exhibition and once on site, every student was given a sketchbook to find the artifacts they had studied and draw pictures of them. “I wasn’t in the museum trying to sketch anything until I was in that college class,” said Zayas-Chien, who studied architecture at Rhode Island School of Design. “And I was watching my daughter do it at five.”

However, although it has been supported by public grants and private foundations over the past years, the beloved program has lost more than half of its funding for the next school year. Oppenheimer said many opportunities are no longer available either because the funding agencies have tight budgets or they have moved on to fund other programs. The parents now hope to raise $45,000 to make up the difference.

“Peralta always finds a way to make things work for the kids,” said Julie Martinez, one of the parents who are leading the fundraising effort to keep the program at the school. A webpage created by the parents and teachers on IndieGoGo, an online group-financing platform, has raised more than $13,000 from a total of 114 donors since mid-June. In addition, $7,000 has been collected through other channels and a $5,000 matching grant from the Flora Foundation will kick in once parents have collected a total of $40,000.

In order to achieve the $45,000 goal, about $20,000 is still needed before August 31, when the new school year begins. Martinez said the parents are “doing anything anybody can think of,” and, given the support they have received so far, she’s hopeful that they will meet their goal.

But even if the program remains able to run next year, Oppenheimer said she’s not certain about its long-term future, since most of its existing funds are still slated to expire soon. “I’m optimistic that we’ll be okay this year,” she said. “But after that I don’t know. We’ll see. ”



  1. Neils on August 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Why not bronze sculpture?

  2. Michael Rosenthal on August 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the great article! I am a Peralta Parent and member of the fundraising committee. We really need everyone’s help to keep art going at Peralta. Donate to the Art in Our Heart campaign at There are some great gifts available at different donation levels. You can learn more about the school itself at

  3. Daniel Brownstein on August 3, 2011 at 4:53 am

    This article illustrates the huge benefits of making the visual arts central in elementary school education. The annual trips Peralta kids make to the De Young gives them a great visual literacy. The treasure hunts for art and hands-on experience with many objects like masks! At a time of cutbacks in museum education, this partnering benefits Peralta kids, and is a great synergy between musueums and Oakland kids!

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